Book Review: How to Run a Great Workshop

How to Run a Great Workshop


Nikki Highmore Sims

My Rating

star star star
"Many great tips... but an uncomfortable sprinkling of pseudo-science"

When I run workshops, people are sacrificing a lot of their time, and often a lot of their money. So I care about doing everything I possibly can to educate, entertain, and ensure they leave with new skills ready to make big impacts in their career.

I've spent hundreds, maybe thousands of hours designing, attending, and deliberately practicing workshops. But I'm not satisfied. So I'm currently on a mission to learn as much about delivering the highest quality workshops as possible.

This journey started with an intriguing, colourful book: How to Run a Great Workshop. And here's my review.

Lots of Little Gems

Flicking through the pages of this book, you're never too far away from a "that's a clever little idea" moment. For example, think of the awkwardness when you ask your attendees to split into random groups. It drags on and everyone feels uncomfortable. Not a great way to get people in the right mood. 

This book suggests you attach a coloured shape to the underside of each chair. You then simply tell participants to look under their chair and find other people with the same colour. 

By the way, if you're signed up to attend one of my workshops, no peaking under your chair, please until I say.

Another subtle, but absolutely genius, tip I'd never considered is judicious use of music. Do you find it awkward at the start of a workshop to hush the noise and grab everyone's attention? Should you shout over them, go round to each table and tell them you're ready to start, or do you just start talking and hope they'll stop?

Don't do any of those. Just have some light music playing before the workshop. Then turn it off to grab everyone's full attention.

One other thing that caught my attention - theming workshops. I'm seriously thinking my next workshop will be fancy dress Power Rangers. If anyone can find a way to link Power Rangers to Domain-Driven Design, please let me know!

It's Really a Book About Designing Workshops

Throughout this book, Nikki repeatedly claims great workshops are designed. She believes most problems faced in workshops can be avoided by good design.

For example, she suggests sending out pre-workshop welcome packs with a little bit of homework is one of the best ways to get workshops off to a good start. She also provides some examples of welcome packs.

What I gained the most from this book's focus on designing workshops, is an appreciation for the many different aspects of a workshop. I think my mental model is clearer now.

From the welcome pack, to the intro, to task variation, and building a strong finish, I have a checklist of all the major aspects of a workshop to ensure I'm not lacking in any area. 

Uncomfortable Pseudo-science

If you pick up a copy of this book, you're going to be reading about how amazing "brain gym" is. How the author tries to include "brain gym" into her workshops because it is scientifically proven to help people learn better. Even though it's actually not. This concerns me a little, and makes me question the credibility of everything else the author gets excited about.

In her defence, this book was written in 2006. I believe, back then, a couple of scientific studies did suggest there may be some benefit to brain training.

The author mentiones other pop-psychology notions, too, including the left/right brain thing, as though everybody is 100% one or the other. 

With those doubts in mind, let me just clarify, though, I've definitely picked up a lot of tricks from this book. It's definitely worth reading, just don't expect to be suddenly be running world-class workshops.

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My Books

Designing Autonomous Teams and Services
Patterns, Principles and Practices of Domain-Driven Design